The Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday lauded a change to World Health Organization (WHO) regulations that would require it to respond to calls for assistance from Taiwan in dealing with the SARS outbreak.
"This seems to provide a legal basis for exchanges between us and WHO over future work on SARS prevention and containment," Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Michael Kau (高英茂) said.
The World Health Assembly (WHA), the WHO's top decision-making body, passed a resolution on Tuesday requiring the WHO director-general to "respond appropriately to all requests for WHO assistance for SARS surveillance, prevention, and control."
According to Kau, Beijing failed in its attempts to insert in the resolution a phrase that would have made WHO assistance subject to "approval of the national government concerned."
But the US, Japan and Taiwan's diplomatic allies also failed to add a condition to the resolution that would have allowed Taiwan to take an active role in the WHO-led fight against SARS, Kau said.
A Central News Agency report from Geneva said Sha Zukang (沙祖康), China's representative to the UN in Geneva, expressed his anger at the passage of the resolution in his statement to the WHA meeting.
The foreign ministry said the resolution was a severe blow to Beijing's attempts to block any direct links between Taipei and the UN global health agency.
But Kau said it remained unclear how the head of the WHO would interpret the resolution if Taiwan sought help.
"It'll very much depend upon the WHO director-general's morals and courage," Kau said.
South Korean tuberculosis expert Lee Jong-wook will replace Gro Harlem Brundtland as head of the organization in July.
The Department of Health yesterday reported another 50 probable SARS cases, bringing the total to 660.
The number of deaths remained unchanged at 81.
The department said of the new cases, 40 were suspected SARS cases that had been reclassified as probable cases after doctors reviewed their files. The other 10 were new cases whose symptoms had developed during the previous 24 hours.
The department has reported an average of 10 new infections a day this week, compared with a record 65 new infections last Thursday.
Of the 660 probable cases, 122 had recovered, it said.
There are another 1,158 suspected cases -- patients with fevers and coughs but whose chest X-rays do not indicate pneumonia.
Health officials said some of these cases were being reviewed and may be reclassified as probable cases in the future.
However, an official at the Center for Disease Control said he did not expect many of the cases to be reclassified.